ROME—Challenges were overcome. Friendships were born. Faith was renewed.
Those were the blessings some 45 faithful experienced on the April 25-May 3 archdiocesan pilgrimage to Rome to witness the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.
On their journey the pilgrims dealt with vast crowds – 800,000 at the canonization Mass – who overwhelmed St. Peter’s Square and also filled the other sites the group traveled to the week after the historic sainthood-making liturgy.
Along the way, they learned about the history of the Church in Rome, seat of the Catholic Church since the first century A.D., and were awed by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, where popes are elected, and of St. Peter’s and the other major basilicas in Rome that were either designed or include works by great artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini. And they were inspired by the lives of the saints and martyrs they encountered at Assisi, birthplace of Saints Francis and Clare; in the St. Callistus catacombs, where St. Cecilia was originally buried; and the Colosseum, where gladiator fighting took place and Christians, including St. Ignatius of Antioch, were fed to wild beasts.
They also got an exciting up-close look at Pope Francis as he drove by them in his popemobile prior to his April 30 general audience at St. Peter’s Square.
“The highpoints were going to the canonization and seeing the pope during his general audience,” said Patrick Lana of Christ on the Mountain Church in Lakewood. “What I didn’t expect was seeing the beautiful churches and experiencing the power they had, the feeling you got when you entered them.
“The pilgrimage was wonderful,” he said, adding he was moved by the spirit of love he experienced and was stirred to avail himself in the future of opportunities to share his faith with others.
Lana’s wife, Annette, who is a convert to Catholicism, said: “I understand better what a pilgrimage is. I’m taking away a renewed spirit—a renewed sense of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
She also gained a deeper appreciation for Mary as the mother of all Christians after feeling her presence at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the largest Church dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Eternal City.
“I’d never really understood praying to the saints and praying the rosary before.”
It was also enlightening for the youngest member of the group, eighth-grader Lowell Dillon of St. Vincent de Paul Church and school.
“I learned a lot about Church history,” he said, “and the saints and martyrs and how they died for their faith.”
Pilgrims said they went to see Pope Francis and his predecessor, and to be part of history as John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, who implemented it, are the first popes to share a canonization date, and who Pope Francis described respectively as “the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit” and “the pope of the family,” in his homily.
“In these two men … there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy. The hope and joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and joy which nothing and no one can take from them.”
Hope and joy were “palpable” in the first Christians, which was “a community that lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity,” Pope Francis said.
And it was present among the pilgrims who went to honor the new saints and who carried the intentions of others with them.
“I took away a powerful sense of community, not only with the people on the pilgrimage but also with the wider Church,” said Patty Garner of Immaculate Conception Church in Lafayette, echoing the sentiments of others. “We took care of each other—everyone just jumped in and became part of a new community together.”
Noël Stewart, of the NeocatechumenaI Way at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder, said she was struck by how all are called to live and to work with God’s grace, which is always present.
“I see that if we’re open to one another as John Paul II said, ‘to be not afraid,’ how quickly we can bond and become brothers and sisters of one another. I’m filled to the top with overflowing joy and grace. I feel a call to pass that on to people.”
The canonization reminds us that we are all called to be saints, said Father Bob Schwartz of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Minn., who joined the archdiocesan group with a dozen of his parishioners.
“What the world needs,” he said, “is more saints!”